Oblivious to the danger he was in, Shin reached the entrance of the Mission Chambers in the Main Hall with a sore right cheek. Ariel’s earlier ‘disciplinary action’ had resulted in Shin gaining a swollen red bump.
“Ouch! It hurts!”
Rubbing the inflamed injury with his left hand, Shin moaned in agony.
“Hmph! Serves you right! Using a stick to wake me up! Am I some sort of animal?”
Ariel was unremorseful of her actions and even started scolding Shin.
“Even so, why do you always turn to violence? Can’t you talk things out? Must you always use your fists?”
“My fists always work!”
“No, they don’t!”
The two training partners started to banter. Shin and Ariel have known each other all their lives, so naturally, they know many things about one another. Playful arguments were routine for them.
“Hey, it’s great that you two get along well, but we’re here!”
Junius stopped their fight. The group had reached a modest, ligneous building that stood over twenty metres tall. It was one of the more straightforward constructions in the Main Hall. Instead of an essential place of the clan, it looked more like a simple cabin in the woods.
Junius led the party and opened the wooden door of the Mission Chambers.
Entering the building, the group was greeted by a wooden counter. There were already groups lining up in front of it to receive their missions while others were huddling up in various corners to discuss the details of their tasks.
“Ariel, did the First Elder give you a badge?”
Junius asked the freckled young girl.
“Of course! Do you need it now?”
Ariel reached into her pocket and grabbed a simplistic looking badge with the number eleven inscribed on it.
“Yeah, we have to present it to the counter to receive our mission.”
“Oh, then here! You take it!”
After Junius explained the use of the badge, Ariel threw the dull item towards the youth.
“Okay, wait here. I will line up to accept the mission.”
Instructing the group to remain where they were, Junius walked towards the counter.
“Ariel… Do you know why the First Elder assigned you to join us?”
Once Junius left, Shin turned to Ariel and asked solemnly. He felt that it was unfair for Ariel to potentially risk her life just because the First Elder wished to protect him.
“I’ve heard… Seems like you’re being targeted. Quite the popular kid you are…”
“So you knew and still agreed to join us?!”
Although Ariel always bullied him, Shin wouldn’t want to endanger her life. The number of people he felt a kinship with were limited, and Ariel was one of them.
“Hmph! As if they dare harm me!”
“Still! You could possibly get injured!”
“I doubt they would be able to lay a single finger on me!”
“This isn’t a joke Ariel!”
“Don’t be so uptight, Shin! I can protect myself. In fact, I can even protect you!”
His training partner was adamant about following them on the mission.
“Besides, there is no confirmation that they are truly going to act during this harvest mission. Grandpa said that he was going to monitor the Second Elder’s every movement so you can rest assured!”
“Hey, Shin. Even if I wasn’t assigned to your group, do you really think I would sit back and do nothing knowing that you might get harmed?”
Similar to how Shin didn’t want Ariel to be harmed, there was no way the freckled girl would abandon Shin in his moment of peril. Growing up together as training partners and playmates, there was an unbreakable bond between them. Even if they were at loggerheads, they would often help each other through the tough times.
Emma giggled as she saw the interaction between the two.
“What? Why are you laughing?”
Shin inquired for the reason of Emma’s sudden outburst.
“No, it’s just that you two get along so well!”
Pulled back into reality, Shin and Ariel blushed at Emma’s comments.
Unable to speak due to embarrassment, the two remained silent until Junius came back.
“Guys! Good news! We’ve received a rather simple mission. All we need to do is to enter the forest and pick out one kilogram of Tinjo mushrooms!”
After queuing for five minutes, Junius finally received the mission. But when he came back, he saw that the atmosphere had become weird. Shin and Ariel were reddened while the twins were grinning from ear to ear.
“Hehe… Nothing much!”
Emma joyfully answered Junius’ question.
“Well, whatever… Here are the details.”
Junius started to explain the specify the task that the group was about to undergo. Firstly, the team had to leave the Frie Clan via the north gate and head towards the forest at the foot of the mountain. At the outskirts of the forest, there was a checkpoint manned by members of the Frie Clan. There, they must secure a weighing scale and a few baskets. Finally, they must head into the forest and collect the Tinjo mushrooms. Tinjo mushrooms were used for the treatment of injuries as their natural properties helped in replenishing blood.
“The Tinjo mushrooms are about twenty centimetres tall and are dark yellow in colour. Hence, they should stand out in the forest. We just need one kilogram so we should be finished in a few hours! We should be able to make it back in time for dinner!”
Junius excitedly said. Although the harvest mission was simple, the real threat was the Second Elder. No one knew what plans he had so it was better to quickly complete the mission and head home.
“Come on! Let’s head to the north gate! The quicker we finish the mission, the earlier we can get back!”
Junius then led the way to the north gate. The Frie Clan was situated on one side of Frie Mountain. This is to prevent enemies from attacking the base from the rear. Hence, there were only three paths out the Frie Clan. Firstly, there was the north gate. The most common way into the Frie Clan and could be considered the main entrance of the clan. When there were visitors, they would always go through the north gate. Next, there was the east gate. The east gate was hard to find from the outside due to it being hidden by numerous natural boulders, and only members of the clan truly knew where it was. Lastly, the hidden gate. Its location is only known to the upper echelons of the clan, it was the Frie Clan’s emergency escape route.
To get to the forest, the group had to leave from the north gate and enter the woods nearby. From the Main Hall, the north gate was only a five-minute walk, so Shin and the others reached their destination rather quickly.
“What’s the matter, Shin?”
Seeing that his little brother abruptly stopped, Junius asked Shin.
“It just dawned on me… This will be the first time that I will be leaving the premise of the Frie Clan…”
Up until now, the orphans mainly stayed in their lodgings and trained every day with the Instructor. They had rarely left the comfort of their homes. But now, Shin was walking out of Frie Mountain and into the vaster world.
“Haha, getting nervous? Don’t worry, my first time leaving Frie Mountain was also rather nerve-wracking. But you will just have to get used to it.”
Junius encouraged Shin. Eventually, the orphans must step into the wider world. Right now, they were like frogs stuck at the bottom of the well. They only knew life inside the Frie Clan. But they must realise that the Frie Clan isn’t the entire world.
Shaking off his anxiousness, Shin took the leap and walked right past the north gate into the new and foreign land…